Debbie Harris, founder of Autumna, believes that ultimately it is competition that drives quality and the rise in importance of the online directory during the Covid pandemic, now means care seekers have more choice and care providers are having to work harder to attract them.
‘Whereas people previously looked locally to find two or three local care homes to visit, they are now doing it digitally and making decisions based on much wider, more detailed searches,’ she says.
‘The average care home shortlist at Autumna has increased from three to ten in the space of just two years.’
When the first lockdown was enforced in March 2020, and it became impossible to visit a care home in person, online became the only way to gather the necessary information to make a decision.
‘Suddenly the big directories like carehome.co.uk and Autumna became super important.’
By presenting information in a standardised format on Autumna, care seekers were not only guided through the questions they needed to ask, but were presented, for the first time, with an easy way to compare and contrast between different care providers.
‘Back then, of course, the big questions that everyone needed the answers to were purely Covid related – “Which care homes have managed to keep Covid out?” – “Which care homes are accepting new placements?’
These were difficult questions to answer at the time, so Autumna established the S.A.F.E infection control initiative which allowed providers to upload details of their IPC policies in an easily searchable format.
Now the questions that care seekers ask are the more normal ones you would expect. But the landscape has changed forever.
‘Care seekers are now quite rightly expecting easily accessible information online. At the click of a button, they want to be able to find their best options and fully understand what they’re getting for their money.’
And it is this new awareness that there is a much wider choice available, that is driving quality.
For example, Autumna recently launched CHOICE Dining the first ever consumer facing accreditation for care home food.
It encompasses a detailed list of quality assurances that the care provider must comply with, in order to be able to display the CHOICE Dining badge.
Once they have it though, not only do they stand out in an online search, but the onus shifts to their competition to ‘up their game’ to try to at least achieve parity.
The overall beneficiary, of course, is the care seeker.
And whilst CHOICE Dining and other differentiators like S.A.F.E are only available to providers who pay a set, standard subscription fee on Autumna, Debbie believes the subscription fee model is the only one that drives quality.
‘We have every UK registered residential and domiciliary care operator on our site, and we don’t pretend the others, who choose not to subscribe, don’t exist.
‘If the care seeker wants to put in the extra work – and quite often they do – then all the contact details of every provider are available.’
This is vastly different to the directories based on a referral model where, Debbie argues, there is very little drive towards quality.
‘I’ve nothing against the referral fee model providing the care seeker is aware of what is going on.
‘The only competition though, that providers might face, comes from those who are prepared to pay more. And when all you’re doing is effectively ‘buying’ placements, then there is no real incentive to improve the quality of service, or staff, or facilities.’
Free and open competition in any sector of business, will always drive quality.